Colbee C. Benton (1805-1880) of New Hampshire was a merchant. He traveled from Vermont to Chicago in the summer of 1833.
Saturday Aug. 3...Touched at Huron and left some passengers, and
then proceeded directly to Detroit, where we arrived about midnight....
Sunday Aug. 4 I have taken up my quarters at the Mansion
House, which place I find very pleasant and very comfortable. The day
has been very warm and muggy and I have felt rather dull and
stupid. I dressed myself for church and in company with a friend walked
to the Episcopal meetinghouse. A very good seat was assigned us and I
enjoyed the curiosity of the ceremony and formalities of the meeting
very much. The singing was very good and I was well pleased with the
preaching. The congregation were very respectable, appearing more genteel and much more fashionable
than I expected to see. A company of United States soldiers occupied
the first slips by the door, which gave the whole quite a martial
appearance. I saw a very fine looking young lady in the slip forward of
me. She looked at me and I looked at her. It was like the "jay bird
setting on a limb - he winked at me and I winked at him." However, I was
not smashed. I withstood the shock bravely, only experienced a
little trembling of the nerves, which soon calmed down to their usual
steadiness. . . .
This afternoon I remained at the Hotel - did not attend
meeting. Since tea I have walked about the City and find it a much more
pleasant place than I expected. The main street is very pleasant and
many fine buildings on it, and the streets running west from the main
streets are also very pleasant, and if there were shade trees and some
better buildings they would be beautiful. The Court House is the
handsomest building in the City and is situated in a very pretty square
almost alone. The streets on the river side are muddy & filthy, and
the buildings are mean.
I went down through the streets and they were filled with
women, bareheaded and barefooted, and it looked odd enough to see women
romping along the streets heedless of all appearances. The children
thick as flies in a milk pan, boys fishing and in swimming and riding
and sailing, guns firing, steamboats coming in and going out, and it was
all hurrah! And I was almost amazed and astonished. I saw some very
large pear trees which the boys and Indians were abusing with clubs
without mercy. This evening I attended a meeting at the Congregational
Church. The churches are not very good buildings. The Roman Catholic
Church has seven steeples, not very splendid though rather odd.
Monday Aug. 5 Today has been very pleasant and warm, and it
has been rather a tedious day with me. I made up my mind to purchase a
horse. I was told that I could purchase cheaper in Canada. I went across
the river and walked to Sandwich where the courts are held, called at a
French house and looked at the ponies but could not purchase. Was asked
to drink whiskey, but refused on account of temperance. Saw a very pretty French girl; she wore a large straw hat and seemed very willing to show herself.
It happened to be the day of the opening of the Court of
Kings Bench and I was present in the Court House and heard the Chief
Justice make his speech, which was a very good one. The attorneys wore
black silk gowns, which are badges of office. The Chief Justice also
wore a black silk gown, and a cocked up hat. The house was crowded -
numerous constables with long poles about ten feet, to keep order. I was
very much amused, as well as many others, to hear the crier repeat the
names of the Jury as the clerk called them. He did not repeat one
correctly, and could not on account of an impediment in his speech, and
frequently the whole Court House was convulsed with laughter, and the
Chief Justice was sensibly affected. He could not maintain his dignity
This Sandwich is a miserable place. I succeeded in getting a
bowl of bread and milk for dinner and I felt very thankful for so much.
Near the bank of the river is an old building which was used for a fort
and the entrenchments are plain to be seen round it. I returned to
Detroit to tea, without purchasing a pony.
Tuesday Aug. 6 Today I have again visited Sandwich, but
without any better success in the purchase of a pony. I might have been
taken for a Horse Jockey of the keenest kind, for I
was ready to buy, and was ready to try their horses. I rode them and
drove them, more for the sake of fun than for anything else, for they
looked so mean that I would not have one, and then they asked so much
that I would not think of purchasing, but I enjoyed my new business
wonderfully. When returning I met a man and wife. I hailed him and tried
to buy his old mare. They got out of their old horse cart and I got in
to see how the horse would travel. After running the horse some distance
and back again, I told the man that the horse was too spirited and too
speedy. I only wanted one that would travel three miles in three hours,
and his would not answer my purpose for he would travel nearly twice as
I returned again to Detroit after looking about the country a
little. The land on the Canada side is very rich and fertile and very
level, and it is a very delightful place up and down the river. Settled
by Frenchmen, who do not manage their farms with any kind of judgment or
economy. There is a store well filled with English goods which does a
great deal of business. The Custom House officers in Detroit have been
so strict that the business has increased on that side of the river.
Some buildings going up. The conveyance is by steamboats which are
constantly passing across. Distance is about one mile.
This evening I have walked down the river on the American
side and I find it very pleasant indeed. Some fine situations and
beautiful gardens, among them Governor Cass's house, an ancient looking
building fronting the river and having a delightful view of the river
and the steamboats and vessels which are constantly passing. I have had a
good opportunity to observe the business which is doing at Detroit, and
I am satisfied that there are too many goods, and I find that there is a
great deal of competition in business. The auction sales frequently
lower than in New York City.
Wednesday Aug. 7 After displaying considerable horsemanship
in riding all the pacing, racking, and trotting horses on the Canada
side, I concluded to leave Detroit. Today has been passed very
pleasantly indeed. I left in a wagon with a young man from Ohio, who was
going to Mount Clements, the county seat of Macomb County, where we
From: A VISITOR TO CHICAGO IN INDIAN DAYS OR "JOURNAL TO THE 'FAR-OFF WEST'" by Colbee C. Benton. Edited by Paul M. Angle and James R. Getz. Chicago: The Caxton Club, 1957: 45-50.